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3rd i‘s 19th annual San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival: Bollywood and Beyond (SFISAFF) reflects the lives and experiences of the many ethnic, religious and national identities by promoting interaction and dialogue both within the South Asian community and with other local and global communities.
Celebrating diversity and community is the key to the success of the Film Festival, as it launches its five-day (Nov. 12-16) live stream and video-on-demand (VOD) program of narrative features and shorts by independent filmmakers from South Asia and its Diaspora, including stories from India, Sri Lanka, France, and the Pakistani and Sikh communities in the UK and US.
The festival launches with a much-needed dose of humor in its Opening Night program, 7 Days. Witty, charming, and delightful, Roshan Sethi’s film perfectly captures the absurdity of this contemporary moment. Premiering at Tribeca Film Festival, this feel-good romantic comedy is about an Indian American couple forced to shelter in place after their first date, only to find out that neither is what their parents made them out to be. The film will be followed by a live Zoom Q&A with the filmmaker and the audience.
Another Rom-Com in the Festival line-up is Iman Zawahry’s Americanish, highlighting the stories of three young Pakistani American women looking for love in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York. The film follows the joys and tribulations of career-driven sisters (Sam and Maryam Khan) and their newly-immigrated cousin (Ameera), who must navigate the consistent — and sometimes conflicting — demands of romance, culture, work, and family.
Two tour-de-force debuts: a spotlight on the Tamil community and its Diaspora. Exquisitely shot, P.S. Vinothraj’s Pebbles (Koozhangal) which won him the Tiger Award at the Rotterdam Film Festival earlier this year, lends a nuanced and sympathetic lens to this searing father-son drama. Young Velu emerges as the star of the film, along with the arid landscape of Southeast India, silently registering the destructive nature of wounded patriarchal impotence with bewilderment, hurt, and resistance.
The other offering in this pairing, The Loyal Man, is French-Sri Lankan director Lawrence Valin’s gripping coming-of-age crime romance set in the gritty Tamil underworld of iconic Paris. Valin, whose previous shorts have won him accolades at Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival, performs double-duty in this film, acting and directing with aplomb. In the role of the character Aathi – an enforcer for the mob – he must confront his allegiance to his mob boss when he falls in love with a trafficked woman under the boss’ control. A discussion with director Lawrence Valin will follow the screening.
This year visionary documentaries amplify the voices of women taking on social justice and environmental issues, from in front of and behind the camera. Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh’s Sundance award-winning Writing with Fire (Audience, Special Jury Award) transports us to the incendiary newsroom of Khabar Lahariya, India’s only newspaper run by Dalit women. At once a portrait of one of the fearless founders Meera, a peek into the inner workings of a newspaper, and a critique of government malfeasance, patriarchy, and rampant gender and caste violence. A panel discussion will follow the screening.
Raj Patel and Zak Piper bring a similarly empowering doc with The Ants and The Grasshopper, but this time the focus is on two women from Malawi – Anita Chitaya and her mentor Esther Lupafya – and their lessons on how to heal our relations with the land. In their quest to save their home from drought, these seasoned activists embark on a journey across the U.S. in an effort to convince Americans that climate change is real. Along the way, from Midwest farms to our own Oakland and urban food cooperatives, they witness national divisions – from the rural-urban divide to schisms of race, class, and gender. Writer Raj Patel co-directs (author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System, NYT Bestseller The Value of Nothing, and the recent, Inflamed: Deep Medicine and The Anatomy of Injustice written with Rupa Marya), bringing his experienced eye on issues of food justice to this critical conversation.
On the documentary docket is Rubika Shah’s White Riot, an energizing look at a vital national protest movement from 1970s Britain, Rock Against Racism (RAR), which is as relevant today as it was back then. The campaign grew from fanzine roots to 1978’s huge antifascist carnival in Victoria Park, featuring X-Ray Spex, Steel Pulse, and of course The Clash, whose rock-star charisma and gale-force conviction took RAR’s message to the masses. Blending fresh interviews with queasy archive footage, Shah’s documentary delves into the how and why of that show, while doubling as a contemporary call to arms against racism.
Keeping an eye on the local scene, 3rd i’s perennial favorite “Coast to Coast: From Mumbai to the Mission” program returns to showcase short films by local and international South Asian American media artists.
Tickets to individual films are $4.99. More information about the festival and tickets: www.thirdi.org
Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter, Facebook for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines.